CARACAS, Venezuela – Colombia and Venezuela recalled their ambassadors for consultations amid an increasingly bitter border dispute, while government supporters in Caracas prepared to rally Friday in support of a controversial crackdown on migrants, smugglers and paramilitary groups.
The spat erupted a week ago when Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro shut a major border crossing after three army officers on an anti-smuggling patrol were shot and wounded, a crime he blamed on Colombian paramilitaries. He also declared a state of emergency in six western cities and deported more than 1,000 Colombian migrants. He later closed another border crossing.
Colombian President Juan Manuel railed against the mass deportations and a meeting of the two countries' foreign ministers on Wednesday failed to ease tensions.
In a televised address Thursday, Santos said he had recalled the country's ambassador from Venezuela, complaining that Venezuelan authorities hadn't let Colombia's Ombudsman enter the border city of San Antonio del Tachira to observe the humanitarian situation there.
Santos also called for an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations and the Organization of American States to discuss what he said was an "unacceptable" situation along the border.
"We want to tell the world what is happening," he said.
The diplomatic protest by Santos came hours after Maduro appeared on national TV in Venezuela and accused his counterpart of undermining reconciliation efforts by telling lies. Until then, Maduro had centered his verbal attacks on Santos' arch rival and predecessor, Alvaro Uribe.
Later Thursday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez announced the recall of that country's ambassador in Bogota, saying in a Twitter post that Maduro had requested the ambassador return for consultations about paramilitaries and other problems seeping into the country from Colombia.
Rodriguez said her country will "study our relations with Colombia deeply" given the aggressions Venezuela has suffered at the hands of paramilitaries and those waging an "economic war."
Recalling an ambassador for consultations is he considered the diplomatic equivalent of lodging a complaint.
Venezuela's socialist ruling party called a march for Friday afternoon in Caracas in support of the week-old crackdown on Colombian paramilitaries, migrants and smugglers, who officials blame for high crime and shortages of goods in Venezuela.
Maduro says the steps are needed to stop smuggling gangs and Colombian paramilitaries from running roughshod over Venezuelan law.
Some Colombian critics and government opponents inside Venezuelan say the crackdown is an attempt by Maduro to distract attention from the soaring inflation and supermarket shortages the oil-rich nation is experiencing.
The state of emergency declaration allows Venezuelan officials to search homes without a warrant and breakup public gatherings. Some departing Colombians have complained of abuses at the hands of the military in recent days, charges the administration denies.
Besides the deportations, another 5,000 Colombian migrants have left Venezuela voluntarily.
With two border crossings closed, the underground economy has come to a halt, satisfying Venezuelan officials who have long blamed transnational mafias for widespread shortages, but also jeopardizing the livelihood of tens of thousands of poor Colombians who depend on the black market.
Many businesses are closed in Venezuela because Colombians cannot get to work, while on the Colombian side of the border, residents complain of long gas lines as the security offensive cuts off trade, legal and otherwise, between the two nations.